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New molecular knot is most complex yet

Crisscrossing braid of atoms has ‘astonishing amount of symmetry’

2:00pm, January 12, 2017
molecular knot

WOVEN TOGETHER  A new molecular knot (representation shown) is the most complex one ever described. It forms a triple braid, with iron ions (silvery-blue) and a chloride ion (green) guiding the formation.

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One hundred and ninety-two atoms have tied the knot.


Chains of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen atoms, woven together in a triple braid, form the most complex molecular knot ever described, chemists from the University of Manchester in England report in the Jan. 13 Science.


Learning how to tie such knots could one day help researchers weave molecular fabrics with all sorts of snazzy properties. “We might get the strength of Kevlar with a lighter and more flexible material,” says study coauthor David Leigh.


That’s still a long way away, but molecular knot tying has an appeal that’s purely intellectual, too, says University of Cambridge chemist Jeremy Sanders. “It’s like the answer to why you climb Everest,” he says. “It’s a challenge.”

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